Be persistent. Find your tribe. Do what you love. Timeless advice for social entrepreneurs.
Social entrepreneur Maxime Dücker shares some of the best advice from the dozens of fellow innovators she's interviewed.
Editor’s note: Maxime has more amazing advice for social entrepreneurs! Read Part II here.
The best way to get advice is from those who’ve experienced it in their own skin. I’ve been asking close to a hundred social entrepreneurs “What’s the piece of advice you’d like to give to other businesses trying to make a difference for good?” and this is what they said.
From the day I discovered the world of eco and social enterprises, I have been obsessed with learning everything I could to support making the world a better place. It seemed so obvious to me that we can actually make a huge difference if we just choose better brands as consumers, or if we decide to make a business out of a social or environmental problem.
Luckily our ways are changing, and there are brave people creating a path for what slowly is becoming a new economy.
Under the belief that most people want to be good people, I have spent most of my time building a network for both consumers and brands to make better decisions. There is one absolute truth for me, and it’s that eco and social entrepreneurs are good people. They are not just doing business, they work on a mission, on something bigger; and therefore they don’t mind sharing their ideas and their knowledge because for them everything is about collaboration.
Hundreds of articles and interviews later, I asked for advice from eco and social entrepreneurs. Today is my chance to share them back with you, so here are the 30 top tips and highlights to leave you as inspired as I feel.
1. Nina and Rafa, the artists and co-founders of Cali Life Co
“You have to be persistent, you have to have a good product that people can afford, and you have to work well with others to be successful! Retail can bring out the best and the worst in people, so you have to take each day in stride. There will be days you just wish you had a boss and a predictable income! And other days you will feel on top of the world, but you still need to be humble and considerate of your company and customers needs.
“Have faith in what you’re trying to achieve, and stay the course." — Miranda Davidson, founder of Happy Planet Toys
“I’m so grateful we came up with something that we can stand behind, something we can believe in. Because when the bad days come, we know deep down we are still on the right track.”
2. Mark Abrials, CMO and co-founder of Avocado Green Mattress
“Stay true to your core mission and values—even when it’s costly, even when it’s disruptive, even when it’s the longer, slower road. We practice radical transparency which means being honest, even when it’s difficult. This is what inspires our brand advocates.”
3. Diane van Zwanenberg, founder of Coconut Matter
“Start a business that relates to a matter close to your heart. When things get tough along the way, you can always go back to your heart to gather strength and keep going forward.”
4. Joakim Cimmerbeck, founder of Eicó
“Do your homework, market research and feasibility studies before you start. Also, make sure your products or services do what you want it to do. In Asia, we have diverse weather and often extreme climate, if your products or services are dependent on this make sure it works.
“Whatever is the number of sales you are targeting and time it takes to be self-sufficient, expect it to be a lot harder. Have time and money more than you think you need, double at least.
“Prepare for surprises. Listen to your opposition and the ones that say what you do not want to hear. Those are the only ones that matter. The ones that say what you want to hear do not help your business. They grow your ego but that will never make business.”
5. Michael Menninger, founder of Far From Lost
“My advice would be firstly to find a topic or a problem that you are extremely passionate about. Secondly, it would be to find your inner voice, and distill all your thinking into something compact and digestible.
"Surround yourself with talented people and keep learning." — Marianna Sachse, founder of Jackalo
“And lastly, starting a business is very expensive, it is imperative to start as small as you can and validate each and every step along the way so you don’t go with a “spray and pray” approach.”
6. Damien Gould, founder of Goodtel
“My advice would be to just start doing something. No matter what it is or how small, if every business decided to make a difference over and above just trying to make a profit we would all be living in a much better world.
[More from Causeartist: 14 social entrepreneurs on how to recover from failure]
“Allowing your team to volunteer regularly for charities, holding fundraisers, donating goods or services to those who need it. Ensuring all staff are paid fairly or ensuring your business is sourcing materials or services ethically, are some of the simple acts small businesses can do in most cases without much difficulty.”
7. Jared and Ryan, founders of Goose Boards
“We all have good inside of us. Explore those inklings, and slowly (or quickly) make it happen. All you have to do is make a start. You don’t often get to see the impact of doing good things as they impact others in such a variety of ways. Also, don’t be afraid of wanting to make money, but don’t make that your only definition of success.”
8. Valinda, founder GreenandHappy
“Take small steps. Each time you run out of a product look for a more sustainable alternative.”
9. Miranda Davidson, founder of Happy Planet Toys
“Have faith in what you’re trying to achieve, and stay the course. It takes a lot of confidence and resilience to put yourself and your product out there. Like any small business, it takes time to build your profile and get visibility for your product or service. But believe in what you’ve created and the change you want to make, sing it from the rooftops, and people will pay attention in time!”
10. Marianna Sachse, founder of Jackalo
“Surround yourself with talented people and keep learning. No one person can do or know everything, so seeking guidance and support from others is critical. I know that sounds like a contradiction since I said I’m essentially a one-woman business, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get fabulous guidance, as I talk to peers and leaders whenever I can.
“Define your values from the beginning and make them public." — Andrew Gibbs-Dabney, founder of LIVSN Designs
“Having an ‘accountability partner’ can be so helpful, this means someone you talk to regularly to help move your business forward. Rather than a mentor or coach, this is a peer (perhaps another entrepreneur) who is tackling similar challenges.”
11. Lisa Nel, General Manager of Jumbari Famili Safaris
“Find out what government organizations, affiliations or NGO’s there are that you can partner with to work towards making a difference. We suggest donating to an ethical trust or charity that makes a difference in your line of business.”
12. Andrew Gibbs-Dabney, founder of LIVSN Designs
“Define your values from the beginning and make them public. When you’re starting out, nearly everything you do is behind closed doors with little scrutiny. It’ll be up to you to make the right choices, and it makes it easier when your fans know your intentions and are able to call you out if you don’t.”
13. Anna Brindle, founder of Lost Shapes
“It’s not enough to just have a worthy idea—you need to create something that people really want to buy too—especially if your target market is ethical consumers, as they’re not impulsive buyers!
“Unless you are deliberately giving your time for free for the venture, and have another income, make sure you factor in paying yourself, otherwise, it’s not truly sustainable.”
14. Julie Grant, founder of Mandala Dream Co.
“For the social entrepreneurs who want to join the sustainable ecosphere; I’d suggest they’d stay versatile and fluid as it’s an ever-changing beast. Research your competitors and their propositions, but model yourself on businesses that you admire and genuinely love their ethos. Reach out to eco-bloggers and like minders. Sadly prepare yourself for the ‘fakers’ & ‘takers,’ as plenty will promise the world for free product and not deliver. So consider a contract for all of these dealings from the start. That will get the non-genuine running away.”
15. Lesley Elder, founder of My Sea Horse
“Find your tribe! There are lots of other people out there who have the same beliefs and concerns as you. Not only can they become your customers but they will help to sustain you when things get tough. And they will get tough. You will make mistakes but the important thing is just to keep going, do the best you can and be honest when you mess up. In the 6 months since we started our workshop has been flooded for a week, we’ve dealt with the uncertainty in our UK market with Brexit and now we are weathering the coronavirus. Not many new businesses have to deal with all of this in such a short space of time but we are still here!”